The winner will host the upstart Baltimore Ravens, who shocked the Denver Broncos and the entire NFL with a double-overtime victory Saturday.
Back in Week 14, New England smashed the Texans 42-14 with quarterback Tom Brady tossing four touchdowns. The loss sent Houston reeling, as they lost two of their next three games to end the season.
Houston would bounce back, toppling the Cincinnati Bengals for the second straight postseason in a 19-13 victory in last week’s Wild Card round. Running back Arian Foster led the way, motoring for 140 yards and a score on 32 carries, with Houston hogging the ball for almost 39 minutes.
The Texans defense also kept Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton in check with a 44.7 passer rating and an interception. Houston’s Matt Schaub earned his first playoff victory, going 29-for-38 for 262 yards and an interception.
The Patriots used their bye week to get dangerous tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez on the same page. Gronkowski missed three straight games with a fore arm injury before coming back in Week 17 in New England’s 28-0 win over the Miami Dolphins, making two receptions for 42 yards and a touchdown. Hernandez had five catches for 44 yards, but is listed as questionable for Sunday with an ankle tweak after a limited practice on Thursday.
Those two, along with running back Stevan Ridley give Brady the most balanced attack he’s had since 2007. Ridley had 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns in his first year as New England’s No. 1 back.
The Patriots were the highest scoring offense in the NFL, posting 34.8 points per game, but their 29th ranked pass defense could pose serious problems for their repeat Super Bowl run.
Schaub and top receiver Andre Johnson, who had 112 receptions for 1,598 yards this season, can pick apart the New England secondary. Texans tight end Owen Daniels could be a dangerous weapon as well, leading the team with six touchdown catches this year.
Another key matchup is NFL sack leader J.J. Watt against a New England offensive line that gave up just 27 sacks this season, good for fifth in the league.
The game kicks-off at 4:30 p.m. EDT and will be broadcast by CBS.
Betting Odds: New England is favored by 10 points.
Over/Under: 48 points
Prediction: If Houston can survive the Patriots first big offensive wave, then the Texans can let Foster dictate the pace of the game. Brady will put up points, but how Schaub responds is the key for the Texans. This game will come down to the fourth quarter, with Brady getting the best of Houston.
Predicted Score: New England 30, Houston 24